The fourth China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue starts Thursday in Beijing with military officials from both sides also in attendance.
Amid rising worries over the bilateral relationship, the dialogue faces the pressing agenda of answering these concerns.
Mutual distrust between China and the US is apparently increasing. The high-level dialogue needs to ensure that the two countries can keep this negative sentiment under control and avoid it being turned into strategic opposition under specific disputes.
There are many things that can be done to advance Sino-US ties, but meanwhile it seems hard to find where exactly to start.
Many conflicts can be dissolved through mutual efforts, but both are worried the other side might have hidden ambitions.
With this mindset, every move of one side appears to be part of the plot in the eyes of the other.
Despite China's fast growth, it is impossible for it to challenge the advantage of the US in the near future. But if this advantage cannot relieve White House from its suspicion, how can China assuage its doubts?
China's claim that it does not intend to be a superpower will not convince Americans.
But similarly China is not buying the US' pledge of not wanting to contain China.
The signals US sends through its deployments in the East and South China Seas, and island chains further away, all go against this pledge.
If China and the US cannot make a breakthrough in dissolving strategic mistrust, all the efforts aiming to improve the bilateral relationship will amount to nothing since the relationship might be disrupted suddenly at any time.
It is a crucial time as for whether the suspicion will head toward mutual trust or strategic antagonism. The rising tensions in China's offshore waters reflect this sense of urgency.
The US often complains about China's opaque policies. But from China's perspective, Washington's policies are more uncertain, subject to not only administration changes, but also specific interests or whatever political mood is sweeping the nation at the time.
Since it is impossible for both sides to put solving strategic mistrust above domestic issues, they should delineate the red line that may be crossed as defending against each other, including actions that will not be tolerated.
US media often accuse China of being arrogant. It reflects their thinking of US' interests being above all others. It needs to find a new balance point for bilateral ties, not hopes to extend the old way of bullying weaker countries.